Weddings are usually time for family and friends to come together to celebrate the joining of two people in love. Other times, things take a turn for the odd. Last fall, a story broke about an incredible request from a bride to be for her wedding. Things fell apart and the wedding was called off, but then she took to social media to blast all of her former friends for ruining her wedding. She wrote an almost book telling the story:
First, things were a fairly tale, she wrote, I met the love of my life at 14. At 20, she continued, we managed to save up nearly $15,000 for a wedding. Since our love was like a fairy tale, we wanted an extravagant blow out wedding. … A local psychic told us to go with the more expensive option, and we thought why not? We just needed a little push. Our dream wedding amounted to $60,000—all included with flight to Aruba. All we asked was for a little help from our friends and family to make it happen.
I specifically, I mean specifically asked for cash gifts. How could we have our wedding that we dreamed of without proper funding. We’d sacrificed so much and only asked each guest for around $1,500. … Like, we made it clear. If you couldn’t contribute, you weren’t invited to our exclusive wedding. … So, we sent out RSVPs and only 8 people replied and sent us the check.
Her rant continues, she calls her former friends terrible name, and in the midst of all this she and her fiancé call off the wedding. It’s a complete disaster on so many levels. I guess the only good thing in all of this is that they broke up before they actually got married.
Most family disfunction isn’t as high as this crazed bride, but we all know that in life, especially life with other people, things can get a little crazy. Because of this, sometimes it is helpful for us to refocus and get back to the basics to see how we can strengthen our relationships, our love, and our families. Last week, we explored six strategies that help us build a stronger family. Today we are going to look at God’s biblical picture for love and your marriage.
When we talk about marriage, I do realize I am not talking to everyone because not everyone is married. Even though everyone is not married most people do get married at least once in life. Currently, about 55% of people over the age of 18 are married. If you broaden the questions, though over 90% of people over 50 have been married at least once.
Even though most people get married, we don’t always have great models of what a healthy marriage looks like in life. In pop culture we have shows like the bachelor and bachelorette that present marriage as a contest amongst beautiful people and who has the most attraction in the group. Often in our families, we don’t have great models either. Even though divorce rates are declining, it’s still true that about 40-50% of all marriages end in divorce. Amongst other things, this often means that you parents and your friends and your relatives do not provide a good model of marriage for you to follow.
If you look at culture, at Hollywood, and at just about anything else regarding marriage, the goal of marriage is to fall in love with someone. This ideal of falling in love is great for teenagers and it is great for newlyweds. It builds and bolsters attraction and intimacy between two people, but the problem is that the chemicals that create this “in love” emotion do not last.
They do not last when you wake up to your partner’s dirty laundry dropped in the floor. They do not last when you realize your partner smells and scratches in weird places at odd times. They do not last when you realize that your partner seems to complain about everything you do wrong, and it seems you do things wrong all they time. It’s at this point that, perhaps, you begin to fall out of love—or you discover that marriage wasn’t what you signed up for. And this is often the time that partners will begin looking for “love” in other places. Going in this direction, the marriage will likely end in divorce.
If marriage is based on this emotion of “falling in love” most of us are doomed. The good news is that God gives us a different example and a different purpose in marriage. When we look at what God says about marriage, in the Bible, we find that marriage is not just about falling in love, but, instead, marriage is a calling to serve and bless and care for your partner. Understanding this calling is the key to strengthening your marriage and your love for your spouse.
We read about this calling God gives us for marriage in the beginning of the Bible. If you have a Bible with you, I want to invite you to turn with me to Genesis 2. Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and Genesis chapter 2 is one of the two creation stories we find in the Bible. In this story, we find that God has created a male human and placed him in a garden. Then we read in verse 18:
18 Then the Lord God said, “It’s not good that the human is alone. I will make him a helper that is perfect for him.” 19 So the Lord God formed from the fertile land all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky and brought them to the human to see what he would name them. The human gave each living being its name. 20 The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals. But a helper perfect for him was nowhere to be found.
God recognized that it wasn’t good for this human to live alone, so God tried to create a helper perfect for him. But even as all of the animals and birds were created, a perfect helper wasn’t found.
21 So the Lord God put the human into a deep and heavy sleep, and took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh over it. 22 With the rib taken from the human, the Lord God fashioned a woman and brought her to the human being. 23 The human[g] said,
“This one finally is bone from my bones
and flesh from my flesh.
She will be called a woman[h]
because from a man[i] she was taken.”
24 This is the reason that a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 The two of them were naked, the man and his wife, but they weren’t embarrassed.
To create a perfect helper, God realizes that the man needs another human. So God puts the man into a deep sleep and fashions another human, a woman, to be the mate of the first human. In creating a mate for the first human, nothing is said about the need to “fall in love,” instead we find this story acknowledges a deep human need for a partner in life—someone to walk through life with, someone to care for and someone to care for you.
In this story, we find that this partner is called a “helper.” When we usually think of a helper, it is someone with lesser skills that comes alongside you to help and to learn from you. In the Bible, though, the Hebrew term for helper always means someone stronger who comes along to help the one who is weaker; it’s almost the reverse of the way we usually think of things. This term is often applied to God coming along to helphumanity. From the very beginning, the woman is created not as a lesser or subservient partner; but as a true, equal, partner in life with a calling just as the man.
It is this idea of helper that forms the calling that God has for everyone who is married. Biblical marriage is not so much about being “in love,” but is about a calling to bless, to care for, and to serve someone else. Love is part of this, but the emotion of “falling in love” is not what defines a healthy marriage.
Since marriage is a calling, I think one of the ways that you can strengthen your marriage is to examine your marriage and to see how it lives up to this calling. In life, most people tend to be pretty selfish; in a healthy marriage, though, you are called to give of yourself and to devote yourself to the wellbeing of someone else.
This is usually what people promise to do in their wedding vows. In a sense, your vows become the mission statement of your marriage. When I work with people getting married, I always make sure that they take seriously their vows. Sometimes people with write their own, sometimes people will stick with the traditional vows, but regardless, my advice to couples is that the vows they use need to honestly represent their commitment to each other. No one needs to lie in their wedding vows. You are making a contract, a commitment to love and cherish someone, and this is not the time to lie about.
While many people choose to write their own vows, the traditional wedding vows that we use in The UMC, speak to and underline this calling to devote yourself to one another. Because of this, they become a mission statement of sorts for the marriage. Here is what we say:
In the name of God, I, Name, take you, Name, to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
In these words, we recognize that marriage is a calling and that not every day of the marriage is going to feel like the wedding day. In these words, we acknowledge that there will be hard days, but even in the hard days you promise to have and to hold. Even in the sick days, even in the days approaching death, you promise to have and to hold. When you speak these words, that emotional “in love” feeling is coursing through your veins, but these are words of sacrifice, devotion, and service that call you to outlast any emotion that will come or go. When you focus on these promises, when you focus on this calling for your marriage your relationship will be strengthened, and your love can grow deeper.
Today we are talking about love and marriage, and we have spent a lot of time talking about marriage and talking about how marriage is about a calling and not about just falling “in love.” But what about love? Because love is vital in any marriage. Love is even a promise in our wedding vows; in the ones I shared earlier, the promise is madeto love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. The examples we have of love in culture and are often in our families are just as fleeting as the examples we have of marriage. Just as biblical marriage is a calling to care and devote yourself to another, biblical love is also a calling.
When we look at the Bible, love is at the forefront. Many people have memorized and love a particular verse in the Bible from John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”God sent Jesus to the world, because God loves the world. And through his life and sacrificial death, Jesus shows us what this love means. This word that we translate as love, goes beyond our English understanding of love. The love that we read about in the Bible comes from a Greek word, agape.
Agape is a specific kind of love that doesn’t depend on emotion; it doesn’t depend on just “falling in love.” Agape is a love that is loyal and undeserved and self-sacrificing; that sounds a lot like your calling in marriage, doesn’t it? We see this agape love in the life and death of Jesus, laying down your life for others. An early church leader, a guy named Paul, gives us a description of what this agape love is. In 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, Paul tells us that
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.
If you look at the concept of falling “in love” you could almost describe it as opposite. Falling in love is fickle; it is jealous; it boasts of its conquests; it can be rude; it seeks its own advantage; its irritable when things don’t go the way you want; it keeps a list wrong doings and slights; falling in love doesn’t put up with all things; it only trusts as far as it can see; it only hopes to be happy; and it only endures until it’s over. Falling “in love” is not the calling of biblical love. Falling “in love” is great place to start a relationship, but if you do not move from the emotion of love into the deeper agape love—you love will fleeting and your marriage will be weakened.
When we look at the Biblical view of love and marriage, agape—selfless, caring, sacrificial love—is the calling to which you are to strive. This means regardless of how I am feeling on any given day, regardless of crummy I feel or how tired I feel, I am called to love Hope, my wife, selflessly and sacrificially. In marriage, you have this calling toward your spouse as well.
This calling, this biblical view of marriage is powerful, but I also know it is the ideal. And you may be listening right now and be thinking, yea, Will, that sounds nice for you, but you don’t know my husband, you don’t know my wife. And you are right, I don’t know your specific circumstance. If you look at marriages, there are so many complexities that come into play. However, by sharing with you this calling that we have in marriage, I do think that you can work to strengthen your marriage.
Now, if you find yourself in a broken marriage, please don’t take my words and think that you can fix everything on your own. If both partners are willing, I believe that there are tools out there that can help you repair and strengthen your marriage, but it will take work, it will take commitment, it takes really living into that calling of sacrificial love. If you need help, I’d love to point you to some of these tools and pray with you along the journey. I also need to say that if you are in a marriage or relationship where there is abuse, sacrificing more of yourself isn’t going to make your spouse stop.
With these disclaimers aside, I do want to leave you with one last encouragement when it comes to living into the calling of love and marriage. I have spent a lot of time telling you that marriage is a calling to sacrificing yourself and caring for another person. I have spent a lot of time telling you how society’s view of “falling in love” just falls short. Even though I stand behind all of this, it is also true that emotion and the feeling of love is important in a marriage. Another pastor, Adam Hamilton, writes about this in a book he wrote about love and marriage. I agree with he says, and don’t think I say it any better.
We have this idea that first you fall in love, and then it follows naturally that you do loving things. But in marriage it works the opposite way. First you do loving things, because as a Christian and a married person you’re called to do them.
Remember that calling to sacrifice yourself for someone else.
Then, [Adam writes] when you persistently do loving things toward somebody, eventually you feel the love again. You do love until you feel love.
Hamilton, Adam. Love to Stay . Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
This calling of marriage isn’t about feeling love, but if you live out this calling, if you live agape love, if you do love, it will follow that you will feel love. It’s kind of a win/win.
So what does a biblical picture for marriage look like? Biblical marriage is not primarily about “falling it love,” rather it is a calling to act out love by serving and sacrificing and caring for your partner. If you live this calling, you will strengthen your marriage and the love that you feel for your spouse will grow.
Decatur United Methodist Church
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